When researching our Melbourne Adventure, I read about a colony of Little Penguins who come home each night to Phillip Island.
Phillip Island is located about 90 minutes from Melbourne.
According to the Penguin Parade website, about 32,000 little penguins that call Phillip Island home.Little Penguins! I had missed out on seeing them when Rich and I had visited Bruny Island.. When I asked Natalie if she would be interested in visiting when she was a teenager, I received a lacklustre ‘sure’ as my response.
When I asked Rich on a later trip if he was interested, he was all over it.
Little did we know how great it would be…Penguin Parade is led by Philip Island Nature Parks, a non-profit organisation. The conservation program educates visitors about the penguin colony and habitat as well as allowing spectators to view little penguins up close.
The penguins arrive on the beach and make their way home at sunset every day. To protect the penguins, the Penguin Parade website encourages guests to arrive about an hour before sunset allowing enough time to buy tickets, browse educational materials, and settle into the viewing area well ahead of the penguins arrival.
When I visited with Natalie, we arrived on a rainy day, an hour before ‘show time’ with only a few other cars in the parking lot. I wondered if the event would be cancelled due to the rain?
Ah…Silly me. Penguins don’t care about rain! They have to forage the sea for their food, returning to their nests under the safety of darkness for a well-deserved rest at night.
Once it was confirmed that the viewing was a nightly event, no matter what the weather, we bought our tickets.While waiting for the viewing area to be opened, we enjoyed talking about what we had learned about the penguins so far. As we wandered, we discovered a portal that showed the burrows below the Conservation Centre.
There were penguins below already!Mesmerised, we didn’t even notice the mass of people who’d begun to arrive. I was surprised there were so many people, but according to the ticket salesperson, the visitor count was low that evening.
Gotta love winter travel.
We walked down the boardwalk toward the viewing area on the beach, hoping to get some good pictures. All signs indicated there was no photography whatsoever. As a photographer, this was hard for me, but I soon learned and appreciated the reason for the policy. The more people taking photos, the less population of penguins there will be. They simply wouldn’t return to the area.
“Imagine having 100 flashes going off in your face at one time,” said the ranger.
The viewing area consists of two grandstands on either side of a rocky area. An enclosed viewing station is available above for VIPs. Being budget conscious, we took our seats toward the front, on the cold, wet, metal grandstand. It wasn’t that cold (yet), nor was it raining, so we were happy where we were, close to the action.
The image stuck in my head from then on.
While waiting for the big event, the rangers presented the best way to experience the little penguins:
- They explained how the penguins come into the beach area, and how to spot the penguins in the water while they waited for the sun to set.
- They reminded us again of no photography, happily encouraging us with: ‘Download them to your heart’s content and share them with whoever you like!’ (As I am doing with you now…)
- We were reminded to stay in ours seats, no running around, and to be super quiet. Oh, and again, no photography please. (It was repeated often, yet people still pulled out their phones and had to be reminded repeatedly. When Rich and I visited in 2017, it was out of control and with not enough staff, there was no way to control anything but the lower seats. We got pissed off, waited until the crowd thinned and then moved down for a front row seat. I can only feel that the days of this colony are numbered because of the lack of crowd control).
As we waited, seagulls took centre stage on the beach below, ranting at the audience, as if echoing the rangers instruction. I imagined them saying to us: “Look, our buddies are about to arrive. Do you get that you can’t take photos and that you have to be quiet?! So shut up people and just wait… it’s going to be awesome. Really!” It was a Madagascar movie moment.
It kept me amused anyway…Finally, the sun set. We looked to the horizon, seeing a dark patch in the water where the penguins congregated, waiting to swim in. The scene was amazing. We watched the shadow of penguins in the water just out of our reach.
As the waves ebbed and flowed, all of a sudden, the penguins appeared on the beach like magic. A small group of little penguins were just standing there looking around, looking at each other, as if to say ‘Now what?!’
“Where did they come from?” I whispered to Nat. She sat silent, spellbound. I’m not sure she even heard me. The look on her face was priceless. OH, if I could have photographed her face at that very moment!After a quick shake, the little penguins waddled up toward the rocks, making sure their group stayed intact. They hopped up over the rocks that seemed almost as big as they were. Little penguins are the smallest of all penguins (30cm or 12in tall) so making it up the rocky dunes took some major effort and dedication.
A majority of the penguins storm the beach at Phillip Island in the first 50 minutes after sunset. The rest make land within ~2 hours. We sat watching the beach for a good 30 minutes, watching wave after wave produce the sweet creatures. As it started to sprinkle, we headed toward the boardwalk to meander back to the conservation centre via the boardwalk to watch the little penguins head to their burrows.We were warned not to get too close though…the penguins will bite, and they bite HARD! Besides, why touch them? They are living their lives just as we are. We are here to observe, to delight in these amazing creatures – and delighted we were!
It was here that Natalie whispered to me that she would like to have a career focused on penguin studies. “A marine biologist?” I asked. Nodding, she said, “Yes, as long as I can work specifically with penguins.”
I guess that ‘sure’ I initially received when suggesting Penguin Parade became something more…
(Despite the fact that she enrolled in University to study linguistics and languages, her love of penguins and wildlife remains. I must have done something right as a parent!)After learning that the little penguins are so sensitive to light, it puzzled me as to why the park would allow lights at all. The ranger explained that the lights work on the red spectrum, which does not affect them. Furthermore, the lights, and the allowance of spectators, were introduced slowly, so the penguins gradually got used to both.
As we approached our car, Natalie got down on all fours on the soggy ground. “What on earth are you doing?” I asked. “I’m checking for penguins”, she replied airily. I had forgotten that the ranger had warned us to check for penguins hiding under the car before leaving. Head up, she announced “All clear!” It was a good start to her career as a ‘penguin’ biologist. We were safe, if not sad, to leave.
Penguin Parade is a must see if you visit Melbourne. There are places to stay on the island overnight if you wish, which we did (more on that later), but since the parade is over and done in 2 hours, you can make the 90 minute trek back to Melbourne if you prefer.
Quick Facts About Penguins (Courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks):
- The difference between males and females is all in the beak. Adult females have a thinner beak than males. Males have a distinct hook on the end of their beak.
- There are 17 species of penguins. All penguins are found in the southern hemisphere and Little Penguins are only found in southern Australia and New Zealand.
- Current estimates put the total Little Penguin population at one million. Phillip Island is currently home to about 32,000.
- Little Penguins live in burrows and raise their young there. These penguins don’t mate for life, unlike some other types of penguins.
- Little Penguins can spend up to 4 weeks at sea at a time.
Quick Facts About Phillip Island Nature Park’s Penguin Parade (Courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks)
- Little penguins are the smallest of the 17 penguin species and the only penguin that lives permanently in Australia.
- 1920s – first tourists visited the Penguin Parade.
- 1955 – State Government established a large reserve over the penguin colony.
- 1966 – a Little Penguin Scientific Advisory Committee was formed and little penguin counts and research programs begun.
- 1985 – the Victorian Government initiated a land buy back of a housing estate located within the colony and brought back all 175 homes and blocks by 2010.
- 1996 – Phillip Island Nature Parks established.
- Present day – Phillip Island Nature Parks continues to manage the Summerland Peninsula and conduct conservation programs and research to ensure the protection of the penguin colony.
For more information, including ticket options and directions, check out http://www.penguins.org.au
PLEASE NOTE: I have not been paid to write this post, nor is it sponsored. This is a true recommendation. Photos were graciously provided by Philip Island Nature Parks
READY TO VISIT PENGUIN PARADE?
Click here for more reviews from TripAdvisor. (Don’t just take OUR word for how great it is…)
When you are ready to go, click here to book your flights to Melbourne, car rental to drive to Phillip Island and if you decide to stay (which we do recommend), we’ve given some recommendations on accommodation below.
From the Airbnb website:
House by the beach, 1 minute walk. Visit the Penguin Parade (starts at Dusk) only 15 minutes drive. Family holiday or romantic getaway. Exclusive Silverleaves Cowes. Property has two sitting rooms, fire place, free WiFi, fantastic air-conditioning. Summer and school holiday bookings available for 7 nights checking in on Fridays.
Designer Beach House provides fresh white linen sheets made up on all the beds on your arrival, towels, beach towels, pillows and doona’s are all feather and luxurious at no extra cost. Stocked pantry and fridge/freezer basics, coffee, tea, bread, spreads, butter, oils, sauces, spices and much more!
Great room with Coonara fire place, split system air-conditioning and heating, open plan kitchen and dinning room, North facing with Baltic floor boards throughout. Second sitting room also has a split system air-conditioner and heating, large TV and blue-ray player with DVD’s, looks onto BBQ deck with BBQ and outdoor dinning. Three bedrooms sleeps 6. Port-a-cot, high chair and baby bath. The main bedroom has a wet room shower en-suite and the main bathroom has a spa overlooking gardens. Outdoor shower deck and fire pit in garden area.
Our review: Rich and I stayed here for two nights at the beginning of winter. It was a comfortable stay with access for walks on the nearby beach. The kitchen was tight but we were able to make simple meals. The bathroom was spacious and luxurious, although was a challenge with no shower screen or curtain. Still, the pressure was amazing and water hot. The washer and dryer was welcomed as long term travellers to catch up on some washing. The neighbourhood was quiet and I could easily see spending a month here in summer. While on the other side of the island from Penguin Parade, it’s on the side of the island that’s quickly accessible to shops and restaurants.